The New Jersey Devils handed Peter DeBoer a bad Boxing Day present yesterday. They fired him. He had spent three and a half years as the Devils coach. In his first season he led a surprising Devils team to the Stanley Cup finals. The Devils have not made the playoffs since and do not look to do so this season. They currently have a 12-24 record with seven regulation tie points. This has the Devils third from last in the East Conference. While DeBoer may not be the best coach in the NHL, it is hard to blame him for the Devils problems. They have the oldest team in the NHL. It is expected that a team like that should be in decline.
Replacing him as coach will be two people. Adam Oates and Scott Stevens are the team's co-coaches. Oates will coach the offence and Stevens the defence. That novel situation doesn't look like a longterm plan. It is easiest to imagine that this is a temporary arrangement until a more permanent coach is brought in. A team without a clear head coach is a problem. If nobody is calling the shots, there is no accountability and nobody to set a clear direction.
I don't see New Jersey as an improved team without a head coach. New Jersey is a team with a few problems and their lack of a head coach is another one. I hope that there is a permanent proven coach about to be hired.
I haven't looked at the AHL standings for over six weeks. When I last looked, the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks affiliate) and Utica Comets (Vancouver Canucks affiliate) were fighting for the top position in the league. Utica remains atop the standings with a 19-10 record with five regulation time points. This gives them 43 on the season. Rockford has slipped back a few points in the standings. The top contenders to supplant Utica in first place are the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings affiliate). They have a 20-8 record with two regulation tie points. That gives them 42 points. They have a game in hand when compared to Utica and an extra win.
Utica has the fewest goals against in the AHL. Jacob Markstrom and Joacim Eriksson have provided top goaltending. Manchester leads the AHL in goals scored. They have the two top scorers in the league in Brian O'Neill and Nick Shore. Jordan Weal is sixth in scoring in the league.
The battle between Utica and Manchester for first place is a classic battle. The best defence against the best offence. It should be interesting to see how this battle resolves itself.
I think it is an interesting development this season that the Toronto Maple Leafs lead the NHL in scoring. They have 3.29 goals per game or 112 goals scored (with two more "goals" from winning shootouts). This is quite an improvement from last season when they were 14th overall in the league. The Leafs have improved by over half a goal per game since last year. How has this happened?
Phil Kessel is their top offensive player. He scored 37 goals last year and has 17 so far this year. He has been a good player for the last few years but does not show any signs of improvement. James Van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozek are also top scorers in both of the last couple seasons. They seem to be replicating past success and not making a big step forward. The difference between last year and this one is largely depth. Players like Mike Santorelli, David Clarkson and Peter Holland are scoring in Toronto and were not last year either because they were not Leafs or because they were not healthy. Last season there were six Maple Leafs who exceeded the 10 goal mark. This year ten or eleven Leafs are on pace to exceed that mark. They have better depth this season. This is a success of Toronto management. Dave Nonis and his crew deserve credit.
Last week I wrote about the AHL scoring race. Charles Hudon of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal Canadiens AHL affiliate) had taken over the scoring lead. His lead didn't last long. There is a new scoring leader in Brian O'Neill of the Manchester Monarchs (Los Angeles Kings AHL affiliate). He has 35 points and has a three point lead over teammate Nick Shore and a four point lead over Hudon. O'Neill scored nine points in two games this week to take the scoring lead.
He is an undrafted 26 year old. He played in the NCAA for four years at Yale University before coming to the AHL. He is in his third full season in the league. His offence has continually increased in that time. He went from 15 points in his rookie year to 47 points last season. He has made a significant jump this season. The fact he hasn't been able to score at a league leading rate in the past and scored more than a quarter of his points this season in two games implies that his scoring lead probably will not last. He does have a bigger scoring lead than any other player has achieved so far this season.
The Anaheim Ducks are currently in first place in the NHL. They have a 21-12 record with five regulation tie points. That gives them 47 points on the season and a two point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks. Last year Anaheim was first place in the West Conference and finished one point out of first place in the NHL. That makes them not a big surprise to be at or near the top in the NHL.
The biggest change between last year's Anaheim Ducks and this year's team is goaltending. Last year Jonas Hiller was their number one goaltender. He left as a free agent and now plays with the Calgary Flames. Frederik Andersen has been their number one goalie so far this season. He is an unproven goalie who started off well this season but has since slowed down a bit. Ilya Bryzgalov has been signed to give them a veteran presence. Goaltending is a weakness and it will likely knock this team out of first place.
Yesterday the Edmonton Oilers fired their coach. Dallas Eakins is fired. What is surprising is that he lasted this long before his firing. The Oilers have had exactly one win since November 9th. In that time they have lost 15 games. The Oilers are stuck at the bottom of the NHL. Something is horribly wrong with this franchise. The problem is firing the coach will not solve it. Dallas Eakins wasn't a great coach, but his isn't a significant portion of the problem. Edmonton has struggled for years. The only time this millennium they actually won a playoff series was in 2006. A constant throughout that period was Kevin Lowe. Lowe coached the team, managed the team and then became president. Somehow as he failed he has failed upwards into a higher position in the franchise. Lowe needs to be fired. Knowing the Oilers they will somehow find a way to promote him instead.
They have Craig MacTavish as a general manager and now an interim coach. He was the last moderately successful NHL coach. He coached the team for their trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. He also missed the playoffs in five of the eight years he coached the team. Somehow he failed upwards too and became general manager.
One of the stories in the 2013/14 season was the dominance of Sidney Crosby. He first took the lead in the Hart Trophy race in October and held that position all season. He won the award and I was disappointed that it wasn't a unanimous decision. This year has not been quite as strong. It was November before I could first pick him as the Hart Trophy leader. He does not lead the NHL in scoring. He is in fourth place three points behind Tyler Seguin. Now that he is out with the mumps, he will fall further off the pace. This makes it time to pick a new non-Crosby MVP.
My selection is Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Rinne leads the NHL with a .937 saves percentage, a 1.75 GAA and 19 wins. His return to form after some injuries has been a big story in Nashville. Little was expected from the Predators and they have climbed to fourth place in the West Conference. Rinne's play in goal is a big reason for their success.
Pekka Rinne has been the NHL MVP so far this season. He is the first player other than Sidney Crosby to hold that position in quite some time. Can he keep up this level of play for the rest of the season?
About a month ago, I wrote about how the Pittsburgh Penguins power play was on a record setting pace. They have not been able to keep that up. They have fallen to second place in the league with a 27.5% power play success rate. Washington is now the league leader. Both Pittsburgh and Washington fall well below the 31.9% mark the 1977/78 Montreal Canadiens set. Pittsburgh has run into injury problems with Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz missing several games to injury. Sidney Crosby is now out with an apparent case of the mumps.
This isn't the only special teams record that is being flirted with. The Chicago Blackhawks have a 91.5% success rate on the penalty kill so far this season. The NHL record is held by the 2011/12 New Jersey Devils who had an 89.6% success rate. There is plenty of time for the Hawks to fall off their current pace, but they have a historically good penalty kill so far this year.
A little over a week ago, I last looked at the AHL scoring race. Teemu Pulkkinen of the Grand Rapids Griffins (Detroit affiliate) had taken over the scoring lead. He has since been surpassed by Charles Hudon of the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal affiliate). Hudon has 29 points which gives him a three point lead over a group of three players including Pulkkinen.
Hudon is a clear NHL prospect. He is 20 years old and in his first AHL season. He was drafted in the fifth round in the 2012 entry draft by the Montreal Canadiens. He would likely have been picked earlier had it not been a smallish player. Hudon is 5'11" but he is only listed at 178 pounds. He scored quite well in the QMJHL with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens. He was a roughly point per game scorer in his rookie year and got better each season. In total he scored 238 points in 211 games in Chicoutimi. He was traded midway through his final QMJHL season to Baie-Comeau Drakkar where he put up 35 more points in 24 games. He has graduated to the AHL and is a scoring star there as well.
On Monday the Ottawa Senators fired coach Paul MacLean. MacLean won coach of the year in 2012/13. That is about 1 1/3 regular seasons ago. How can somebody fall from the best coach in the league to a coach who isn't even worth keeping under employment in that short period of time?
The first part of the answer is that MacLean was never the best coach in the NHL. Sure he won coach of the year but that award rarely goes to the best coach in the NHL. The coach of the year is usually given to the coach of the most improved team . Teams improve for many reasons. These reasons can be improved players, a reduction in injuries or even good luck. Coaching may be one of those reasons, but there are many examples of teams that have improved despite poor coaching or failed to improve despite good coaching. Simply, the Adams Trophy as coach of the year is often poorly decided. Paul MacLean is an example of a person who won the award without being a serious contender to being the best coach in the NHL.
About The Puck Stops Here
Who am I? A diehard hockey fan.
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